Internet Blackout in Iran and The Future it Foreshadows

Early morning on June 12th, 2009 when Iranians were heading for polls of Presidential elections, they were faced a peculiar surprise. Text message service was disabled on the cellphones nationwide. Everyone was sure Mousavi would win the election but when the results were published, unexpectedly early, Ahmadinejad was announced the winner. On June 15th, the streets of Tehran saw more than two million people marching in silence asking for a recount. The silence march ended in gunfires from the security forces. People were no longer after a recount. They wanted Ahmadinejad to step down; something that did not happen and when, after two months, his second inauguration was being held the text messages were still not available on the cellphones.

Last Friday, Rouhani’s government announced a 50% increase in price of the first 60 liters of oil consumed. Those who consume above this quantity will have to pay a 200% raise. The parliament was upset about having been sidelined by the government and not having been consulted in this decision. The Supreme Leader supported the decision based on bona fide and verbally attacked the people who had just began to protest against it. He also urged the government to make the direct payments expected in order to compensate for the price hikes. Government rushing out these payments was not of much help.

Shortly after the Leader’s address, the citizens discovered that the Internet websites, except for those domestic ones, were not accessible: that is to say, those who wanted to use google.com to search for something had to use parsijoo.ir which is an Iranian search engine. Briefly, the Internet has turned into a national intranet. As a result, if you have relatives in Iran, you cannot call them through WhatsApp. This is referred to as “National Internet” and sometimes, ironically, as “Halal net.”

In the meantime, the protests are continuing and from time to time, some random internet user from Iran manages to climb the wall and reach us. This brings us to photos, videos, news and observations. People often talk about arrests being made randomly, heavy presence of security forces and extreme difficulty of their effort in connecting to the Internet using the VPN, not knowing how long the connection would last. The photos are distressing: people shot on the streets, banks and buildings on fire, roads that are blocked by the barricades and gunshots being heard in almost every video. It all seems like a dystopian movie. On Tuesday, Amnesty International confirmed 106 deaths in 5 days by security forces.

Some months ago, the government granted Internet service without filters -which has been an essential part of the Internet in Iran- to some journalists with whom it was on good terms. This was commonly known as the Press Internet. During the recent blackout, the Press Internet has been working perfectly; however, those who use it don’t want the protest(er) information or the victim numbers to appear in the Western media.

Starting in 2010, Iran started to develop its capacities to host the Iranian websites on Iranian servers. This turned to be a necessity as the American sanctions intensified and barred Iranian websites from being hosted on Western servers. Therefore, Iran was pushed further towards a major effort in order to construct the infrastructures of the “National Internet” by developing servers, websites and the apps that have the exact same functions of those in the West: zoodfood.ir is completely like justeat, Soroosh is a messenger that functions like Whatsapp (despite the terrible bugs in the programming and of course, security related issues of a messenger app which is run by an oppressive government.)

Over the past few days there have been visibly very low sources of the news, videos and photos of the demonstrations going on. This has also given more possibility to the government to take oppressive and harsh measures against the protesters. This can be the beginning of a road that will lead to the complete isolation of Iranian users, clearly more isolated than the previously heavily filtered Internet that existed in Iran. The crackdown of the government against the demonstrations is a blueprint for the attitude that the government will take against its citizens whose discontents continues to rise on a daily basis.

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